Sunday, June 17, 2007
Even though I read a lot of comics growing up (and I mean a lot) Fantastic Four was never really on the top of my list. I was more of an X-Men junkie. But when I did get a chance to breeze over a Fantastic Four book, what always pulled me in was the dynamic between the four members. Although over the years, the Fantastic Four have been through many incarnations, the core group of Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Women, The Human Torch, and The Thing have always been the 4 are what has made the comic so wildly popular since the early 60’s. It isn’t really the adventures they go on, or the intergalactic superbeings they cross, but the relationship between the 4 teammates that have made them so appealing; the mix between borderline soap opera drama, and comic relief banter that make not only for a perfect “comic” comic book, but fit perfectly into a big budget no-holds bar, Blockbuster, action movie.
With that said, it is for this reason I defend the Fantastic Four movies, and can also attest that Fantastic Four; Rise of The Silver Surfer is one of the best “comic” comic book movies to come out in a long while. The first Fantastic Four (2005), was mediocre at best, but did succeed at setting the right tone for the characters. If you disagree with this, go find the Fantastic Four film they tried to make back in 1994 directed by Oley Sassone. Now there’s a travesty on film. Although some will argue, I think the best thing about the current Fantastic Four movies is that the writers, as well as director Tim Story, keep the tone lighthearted. Unlike big movie missteps Daredevil, Ghost Rider & The Punisher (characters who were suppose to be serious, dark, mysterious and brooding, but were treated like sideshow acts in each respective film) The Fantastic Four movies are suppose to be campy and lighthearted. I feel like if they tried to make the characters to overtly serious they would be disrespecting the heart and legacy of the characters. So for all the naysayers who can’t stand the movie for it's camp factor, you probably wouldn’t be able to read a Fantastic Four comic book for the same reason.
Fortunately, Rise of the Silver Surfer balances the camp and the seriousness just right, to where exposition moves out of the way for some decent action sequences. So in a nutshell, a being from outer space (The Silver Surfer) comes to earth basically to decide whether earth is suitable to be devoured by a planet eater named Galactus (he’s a whole ‘nother story). Turns out our planet is quite delicious and Galactus is ready to feed, but once our Government’s spy satellites catch the Silver Surfer in action, they go running to uber-scientist Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) to help find out what kind of threat our country is dealing with. Of course this directly interferes with Reed marrying Sue Storm (Invisible Women/Jessica Alba) which gives the story it's nice, little conflict. Just as in the comics, Reed has to decide whether to choose his extraneousness work in the laboratory or spend quality time with Sue. It is this conflict that has been a problem for Reed since his inception by Stan Lee himself. As the plot moves forward, Reed, with the entire earth depending on him, works in secret to find out what the Silver Surfer is up to. It is this superhero paradigm, selflessness over selfishness, that plays a very important role throughout the course of the film resulting in some incredibly successful scenes .
This underlying theme plays a crucial role in the socially conscious script. Like in the comics, the Fantastic Four are big celebrities, and in today’s world where celebrity life is followed more closely than religion, the biggest news isn’t the Silver Surfer's arrival, its Sue & Reed’s weeding. Where the rest of the team ignore their celebdom, Johnny Storm (Human Touch) fully embraces it, wearing sponsorships on his uniform (like a NASCAR racer) and constantly craving media attention. Also the US Government is played in fascist order by General Hager who makes demands of Reed to help find and capture the Silver Surfer. Eventually he also enlists Victor Von Doom to work with Reed and help motivate him to work faster. Although initially the enemy seems to be Silver Surfer, as he is finally captured and tortured by our Government, we learn that we are in fact the deviant ones. It is only through the kindness of Sue Storm and the gentle nature of the human heart that we find a resolution.
I believe this is a subtle jab at both our current bullying governmental policies, our ultra-celebrity obsession, and how they are both deferring us as reasonable human beings. In a way the writing of the script and the initial storyline by Stan Lee have always been a cautionary tale. What if a grand being not from our world was to bring on the Apocalypse? Would we be worth saving? Not unless we change our boorish behavior and not if we continue to act selfishly and not selflessly. The reason why the Fantastic Four are so, well, fantastic, is not because they have their superpowers, but because as a team they are willing to give up their lives, their selfishness, for a higher cause. And this is the lesson we are being taught in the movie. Sue says to the Silver Surfer when asking him to spare the planet, “There’s always a choice”. A choice to make a difference in each other’s lives and a choice to try to make our lives worth saving." This is the epic, morality tale Stan Lee set forth when he wrote this storyline in the 60’s, and it still echo’s true in this movie. And that, my friends, is why this movie succeeds and isn’t just another campy superhero action flick. See it how you may, but I think ‘nuff said.
Fantastic Four; Rise of The Silver Surfer